LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- American Lake Veterans Golf Course, a proud fixture for generations of golf enthusiasts who have served the country in time of war, became a scene for a new chapter in how the game can give back to them.
Sixty-seven disabled veterans received the expert one-on-one attention of 22 Pacific Northwest PGA Professionals at the inaugural Down Range Golf Clinic, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The DRGP is an initiative developed by VA's Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events in partnership with Deloitte Consulting LLP and The PGA of America. The goal of the program is to encourage disabled Veterans to be more active and healthy in their communities through the game of golf.
"Our PGA Professionals were honored to have spent the day with our veterans," said Pacific Northwest PGA CEO Jeff Ellison. "We shared the joy that only golf can bring. Our veterans and members of the VA saw that golf is a pathway to a normal life."
The clinic delivered golf instruction, resources, and support to veterans with a range of disabilities and diagnoses. Participating veterans included those with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, visual impairments, and amputees. The clinic utilized a three-pronged approach to improved health through sports:
Exposing Veterans to the basic skills and techniques of the game of golf.
Focusing on post-clinic continued success for the Veterans by providing each with an individualized plan tailored to their specific needs.
Expanding opportunities for golf participation and education through local Down Range Golf Clinics at VA medical facilities.
"I worked with a double amputee who was left-handed, and he was not having any luck hitting the ball," said Ellison. "I gave him a few tips and soon he was hitting the ball in air. You can see the joy come over him. What is great is that the Down Range Clinic is a pilot program, and we anticipate that it can grow throughout the country." The VA is promoting the Down Range Program model, which Monday attracted veterans from the region including Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
American Lake Veterans Golf Course is a nine-hole facility opened for play in 1956, a collaboration of the American Lake Veterans Hospital near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and with support from in-patients at a cost of $25,000.
The American Lake Veterans Hospital decided that it would add a golf course to its grounds to benefit the soldiers recovering in their facility. The course was designed as a place of respite rather than rehabilitation. The special needs of the disabled were not taken into account at the time. In 1995, funding by the VA was eliminated and the future of the course was uncertain. Volunteers stepped up to continue work on the course and keep it in operation. Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course was founded in 2004, and began raising funds for much-needed improvements.
In 2010, golf legend Jack Nicklaus volunteered his services to redesign and expand the course to 18 holes. Currently, club manager Bruce McKenty - a Vietnam veteran - reported that the second nine holes is fully "staked out" by Nicklaus's team. McKenty said that fundraising to complete the renovation is more than halfway toward a goal of $3.5 million.
"I was very impressed with what I saw here Monday," said McKenty, national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "It was wonderful to have the PGA Professional help. We do something similar to this four times a year with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis, and a First Swing Clinic with severely disabled and blind veterans and a separate reunion for blind veterans annually. The veterans truly enjoyed themselves at this clinic."
There were many PGA Professionals at Monday's clinic whoa had not had extensive experience with the physically challenged, but soon found they had reached their stride.
"What a great day. I only cried twice," said Dan Hill, the PGA head professional at Broadmoor Golf Club in Seattle, and a former Pacific Northwest PGA president. "I waited too long to come to American Lake and can't wait to come back."
Said PGA assistant professional Mark Keating of Sherwood, Ore., "I was very honored to be hands on directly with our veterans, and they love golf."
For more information on VA adaptive sports programs visit va.gov/adaptivesports.
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